NAPLES — As if to prove that the 2010 election cycle is contentious on every level, even a Fourth of July parade has people up in arms.
The Democratic Women's Club of Collier County filed a complaint with city of Naples officials, saying members of the Naples Tea Party insulted them as they were heading out onto the parade route for the annual Independence Day parade.
Elaine Vaccaro, the Democratic club’s president, said a man on the loud speaker called the women marching in the parade “cowards.”
“They started by asking ‘Where’s Obama’s army?’” she said. “When we raised our hands to say ‘Here we are,’ a man started calling us a bunch of cowards. I was embarrassed.”
Barry Willoughby, founder of the Naples Tea Party, said nothing could be further from the truth. He said he was in charge of the loud speaker for most of the day and that he only led the group in a few songs.
“We were singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to our country,” he said.
The city’s official stance is that there’s no way to prove anything.
Dave Lykins, director of community services for the city, said his office did receive the complaint but plans no action nor an investigation.
“It’s basically a he-said, she-said thing,” Lykins said. “There’s no reason to keep it going.”
But the accusations against the Naples Tea Party members have opened up a can of conspiracy theories. Willoughby said he believes it is just another attempt by opponents to drag his organization in the mud.
Vaccaro said she believes a pep talk from GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott of Naples moments before the parade sparked the frenzy.
Vaccaro called the Alex Sink for Governor campaign, since the incident occurred while her group was carrying a Sink for Governor banner for the expected Democratic nominee.
Kyra Jennings, Sink’s campaign spokeswoman, said Sink didn’t speak about other candidates with the Vaccaro camp but was appalled by the behavior.
“That might be the silliest assertion I’ve ever heard in politics,” Scott spokesman Joe Kildea said about allegations of the candidate’s involvement in the incident.
Other Republicans are saying it is the Democrats who have the bad attitude.
Shari Monetta, who walked in the parade, said she remembered Democrats doing something similar only more foul the year before at the July 4 parade.
But she also said that the Collier County Sheriff’s Office removed three people from a rally hosted by the Naples Tea Party on April 15. When told the information wasn’t true, Monetta said, “Well that’s just what I heard.”
The Sheriff’s Office told the Daily News the day of the rally that no one was arrested or removed from the event.
For her part, Vaccaro swears she’s telling the truth about what happened at the parade.
“People in this town know me,” she said. “They know I wouldn’t make this up.”
She said she spoke up because she felt like she had to let people know about behavior she said “has no place in my opinion.”
Willoughby agrees with that last point. He said his group doesn’t tolerate untoward behavior from its members. But he admits that there is an anger roiling at the surface.
“People are mad,” he said. “But we aren’t calling other people names.”